An estimated 7.5 million people in the United States have psoriasis, a common inflammatory skin condition that causes scaly, dry patches of skin.
Conventional treatment options include steroids, anti-inflammatory medications and immunosuppressive drugs. Because many of these drugs cause unwanted side effects, sufferers often seek out alternative, natural treatments to help ease their symptoms. Castor oil is one of the most commonly-recommended natural treatments for psoriasis.
But what does science have to say? Can castor oil really help with this skin condition?
What is Castor Oil?
Castor oil is the extracted oil from the seeds of the Ricinus communis plant. People have been using this vegetable oil for thousands of years.
The seeds, known as castor beans, contain a toxic enzyme called ricin, but this enzyme is deactivated during the heating process when creating castor oil. The deactivation of ricin makes the oil safe for use.
In fact, castor oil is commonly used as an additive in food, skin care products and medications. Ancient Egyptians used to burn castor oil as fuel in their lamps, and they also used the oil to treat eye irritation.
Today, castor oil is still used as a natural treatment for many common skin conditions.
There are three main types of castor oil:
- Black castor oil: Produced by roasting the beans before pressing them.
- Cold-pressed castor oil: Pale-yellow in color, this oil is cold-pressed to extract the oil.
- Hydrogenated castor oil: Waxy and brittle, this form of castor oil is commonly used in personal care products and cosmetics.
In addition to psoriasis, castor oil is often used:
- To keep skin moisturized. Castor oil is naturally moisturizing and softens the skin.
- To move things along in the digestive system. Castor oil is perhaps best known for its use as a laxative. It’s often used to treat temporary constipation, but taking too much of the oil can lead to cramping and diarrhea.
- To keep the scalp and skin healthy. The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of castor oil make it a great remedy for dandruff and other skin conditions, such as acne, dermatosis and eczema.
- To kill bacteria. Castor oil may have the power to kill Candida albicans, a type of yeast that causes infections in the body.
Castor Oil and Psoriasis – What Science Says
Some research indicates that castor oil has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which may help ease psoriasis symptoms.
An animal study found that ricinoleic acid, the main component of castor oil, has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Because psoriasis is considered an inflammatory condition, castor oil’s ability to ease inflammation may make it a practical treatment option.
Psoriasis can also make you more susceptible to skin infections, so the anti-bacterial properties of this oil may help prevent infections or speed up the healing process.
Many naturopaths believe that castor oil has immune-boosting properties, but there is no research to support this theory.
Potential Side Effects and Risks
Although castor oil is considered a relatively safe home remedy, it’s not without side effects and potential risks.
Studies have shown that castor oil is safe for topical use on the skin. However, it is possible to have an allergic reaction to the oil. Symptoms may include itching, hives, swelling and a skin rash.
If you experience an allergic reaction when using castor oil, seek medical attention immediately.
Experts recommend doing a patch test on the skin before applying the oil liberally to your body. Patch tests can help reduce the risk of an allergic reaction and help gauge your body’s response to the oil.
To perform a patch test:
- Dab a small amount of the oil onto a small area of the skin.
- Wait 24 hours.
Check for side effects during the 24-hour waiting period. If you notice any irritation or discomfort, avoid using the oil.
How to Use Castor Oil for Psoriasis
Despite the lack of scientific evidence of its effectiveness, castor oil is still a relatively safe home remedy for people battling psoriasis and other skin conditions.
Most people apply the oil directly to the skin using cotton wool. Because this is a thick oil that isn’t easily absorbed by the skin, it may be best to apply the oil before bed and allow it to soak overnight.
Castor oil can be applied to any area of the skin, including the scalp. In fact, many people also swear by castor oil for hair growth and scalp health.
Castor oil can also be diluted with another oil, such as olive or coconut oil. Diluting the castor oil may make it easier for the skin to absorb it. Coconut oil also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which may further help with psoriasis symptoms.
If you plan to dilute the oil with another oil, you can also add essential oils to your mixture. There are many essential oils that offer soothing, anti-bacterial effects that may help ease your symptoms, including:
- Tea tree
These essential oils have cooling, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, all of which can benefit the skin and help in the treatment of psoriasis.
Some people add baking soda to their castor oil treatments, which may boost the anti-inflammatory effects of the oil. Add just a pinch of baking soda to create a paste.
Alternative Remedies for Psoriasis
If castor oil is not giving you the effects that you want, an alternative remedy may help.
One of the most effective ways to keep psoriasis in check for the long-term is to learn your triggers and avoid them.
Many lifestyle and diet choices can cause flare-ups, including:
- Food sensitivities and allergies
- Smoking and drinking alcohol
- Skin damage
- Vitamin deficiencies
Avoiding your triggers will help keep flare-ups to a minimum. If you do experience a flare-up, it may be easier to deal with the symptoms.
Aloe vera gel may provide soothing relief, and taking fish oil supplements, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, may help keep inflammation away. Keeping the skin moisturized can further help prevent scaly patches and keep your skin healthy.
Castor oil is a generally safe remedy for psoriasis that can be used in conjunction with other treatments to keep your symptoms in check. Consult with your doctor before adding castor oil to your treatment regimen.